They say that success is the best revenge.
For every woman who has ever felt exasperated by the various speculations regarding the existence or non-existence of innate differences between the sexes with respect to mathematical ability, what better rebuttal could there be than a list like this one?
The very fact that these fifty women have achieved what they have shows the superficiality of the whole debate. It ought to be clear by now that the mature expression of sophisticated human capacities depends upon a complex interaction between biological endowment and cultural and educational opportunity (that is, nature and nurture).
And if someone were to object that these fifty women are not typical — well, the men who could be accounted the peers of these women would constitute a tiny minority of their sex, as well! Very high achievement, by its very nature, is something out of the ordinary.
Even readers who may have no interest at all in the nature-nurture problem and its echo in our present culture wars ought to take notice of this list. Why is that?
Consider this. Practically everyone allows that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) hold the key to the economic future of our country. Moreover, today well over half of all college graduates are female. In fact, women have been increasing their numbers in other academic fields by leaps and bounds in recent years; in STEM fields, not so much.
Therefore, we submit that the entrance of women into STEM fields in greater numbers is of vital importance to our national interest.
Also note that in order to compile this list, we had no recourse at all to “affirmative action.” There was simply no need for it. If anyone finds our list “empowering,” we are happy for them, but that is not really the main point.
We simply looked for the best women in their respective fields — women who have gotten where they are by simply plowing through whatever obstacles may have stood in their path. Women with a lot of innate talent, certainly, but who have also put in a great deal of extremely hard work.
In other words, what our list shows — to today’s young women and whoever else may be interested — is that it can be done. If a young woman has a taste and a talent for math and science — and a capacity to stick with it to accomplish her goals — that is really all she needs. At the end of the day, everything else is sound and fury signifying very little. (If you’re up of a fun little challenge to test your skills, check out our STEM Intelligence Quiz.)
In short, the highly accomplished women on this list provide the best sort of role models for mathematically and scientifically inclined younger women. They say it loud and clear, for all the world to hear:
“Just get out of my way, and let me get on with the work!”
Note: We have tried to balance our list — which is alphabetical — among the various STEM fields, and within the exact sciences, among the main disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and geology. To be selected for inclusion on this list, the woman had of course to be still living as of the date of publication, and also be born after 1937 (and thus be under the age of eighty). We reluctantly decided to institute an age requirement in order ensure a list with more younger scholars still engaged in active research. We hope to revisit the path-breaking achievements of older women scientists on another occasion.
The Fifty Top Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
1. Barbara Askins | Physical Chemistry
Askins (née Scott) was born in Belfast, Tennessee. After first working as a teacher and raising a family, she went back to school and took her bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She was then employed as a physical chemist by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
Askins is best known for inventing the autoradiograph, a method of greatly enhancing the density and contrast of photographic images by exposing the silver in the emulsion of a photographic negative to radiation, and then creating a second image by exposing a second emulsion to the radiation from the first one. Askins’s process was initially applied with great success in astronomy, to images taken through light telescopes. Subsequently, it found wide application in medical technology, in the enhancement of X-ray images. In 1978, Askins was named Inventor of the Year by the Association for the Advancement of Inventions and Innovations — the first woman to receive the honor.
- Web resource: Barbara Askins’ Biographical Page
2. Carolyn R. Bertozzi | Biochemistry
Bertozzi was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her AB summa cum laude in chemistry from Harvard University. She received her PhD in chemistry in 1993 from University of California–Berkeley, where she worked with Mark Bednarsky on the synthesis of oligosaccharide analogs. She joined the Berkeley faculty in 1996. Today, she is Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, as well as Director of the Bertozzi Research Lab in the Department of Chemistry at Stanford. In addition, since 2000 she has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
Bertozzi’s research focuses on the role of glycans (polysaccharides) in cell surface receptors, especially the connection between cell-signaling disruption and diseases like cancer and arthritis. Her lab is perhaps best known for developing powerful new research tools for cell biology, notably so-called “bioorthogonal chemical reporters,” which are man-made chemical “handles” that can be altered by means of externally controlled but non-perturbing reactions within the living system — basically a new way of designing macromolecules to order. Bertozzi’s new method has been essential, among other things, to the development of modern forms of fluorescent “labeling” of macromolecules for purposes of advanced imaging. Bertozzi has won numerous prizes and awards, and is involved in several start-ups and other commercial ventures connected to her pioneering work.
- Web resource: Carolyn R. Bertozzi’s Home Page
3. Elizabeth Blackburn | Cell Biology
Blackburn was born in Hobart, Tasmania, in Australia. When she was sixteen, her family relocated to Melbourne, where she attended high school, and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees from the University of Melbourne. Next, she traveled to the United Kingdom, where she enrolled in Darwin College, Cambridge, obtaining her PhD in 1974 for work on bacteriophage viruses. After graduating, she taught at University of California–San Francisco, where her ground-breaking work on telomeres was done. She is currently President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.
In 2009, Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Carol W. Greider (see below on this list) and Jack W. Szostak, for her discovery of telomerase, a member of the reverse transcriptase family of enzymes. Telomeres are non-coding buffer regions at the ends of chromosomes which become shortened during chromosome replication. Telomerase controls the bonding of new nucleotide units to the shortened telomere regions after completion of cell replication, a function that is vital to the longevity of the cell. in 2002, Blackburn was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics by President George W. Bush. She supported the use of human embryonic stem cells in biomedical research, which put her at odds with the majority of the Council. In 2004, she was removed from her position on the Council by President Bush amid heated public controversy.
- Web resource: Elizabeth Blackburn’s Home Page
4. Helen M. Blau | Cell Biology
Blau was born in London, but earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of York in the United Kingdom. She obtained her MA and PhD degrees from Harvard University, where she worked under Fotis C. Kafatos. After a postdoc as University of California–San Francisco, she joined Stanford University in 1978, where she received an endowed chair in the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology in 1999. In 2002, she was appointed as the founding Director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford.
Blau is best known for her experiments with heterokaryons (fusions of differentiated cells from two different species), work which proved that even mature, differentiated cells retain the latent capacity for the expression of different cell types, and that mature cell type could in fact be reversed — something that had previously been assumed to be impossible. Her work also showed that the maintenance of the differentiated cell state is the result of a continuing, active process — which points to a new, more dynamic vision of all living processes. Blau’s work is considered to be fundamental to the young but burgeoning fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Her work also has profound implications for our eventual understanding of the physiological basis of cancer.
- Web resource: Helen M. Blau’s Home Page
5. Cynthia Breazeal | Computer Science, Robotics
Breazeal was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received her bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering from University of California–Santa Barbara in 1989, and her doctor of science degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000. At MIT, Breazeal worked in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory under Rodney A. Brooks, fabled pioneer of the actionist approach to robotics. For her doctoral dissertation, she developed Kismet (see video clip, below), a highly expressive humanoid robot capable of unscripted, emotionally intuitive, and hence lifelike interaction with human beings.
Following the breakthrough with Kismet, Breazeal helped develop a number of more sophisticated robots utilizing similar principles, including Cog, Leonardo, and Nexi. The general term now in use for these more-advanced descendants of Kismet is “MDS” (mobile, dexterous, social) robots. Several commercial spin-offs have been derived from her work, as well, including the personal trainer, Autom, the interactive robot companion, Huggable, and the enhanced video-conferencing system, MeBot. Breazeal is currently Director of the Personal Robots Group under the aegis of MIT’s famed Media Lab.
- Web resource: Cynthia Breazeal’s Home Page
6. Linda B. Buck | Cell Biology
Buck was born in Seattle, Washington. She received her bachelor of science degree in psychology and microbiology from the University of Washington at Seattle in 1975, and her PhD in immunology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 1980. At the latter institution, she worked under Ellen S. Vitetta, co-discoverer of the cytokine Interleukin-4, which plays an essential role in the formation of T cells. After a couple of years of postdoctoral research at Columbia University, Buck joined Richard Axel’s lab at Columbia’s Institute of Cancer Research.
Inspired by the pioneering work of Solomon H. Snyder during the 1970s on the opioid receptor in the brain (as well as the receptors for many other major neurotransmitters), Buck and Axel decided to try to map an entire sensory system at the molecular level. They chose the olfactory system in rats for its relative simplicity. Beginning in 1991, they began publishing work that eventually identified genes and gene families responsible for coding for more than 1,000 different neural receptors (sensors) in the olfactory receptor cells at the back of the nose at the base of the brain. For this ground-breaking work, Buck and Axel received the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. In 1991, Buck joined the Neurobiology Department of Harvard Medical School, where she soon became head of her own lab. There, she traced the molecular basis of olfaction still further, showing how information from the various receptor cells are integrated in the olfactory bulb before being passed on to higher-level structures in the brain for interpretation. Buck is currently a Full Member of the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
- Web resource: Linda B. Buck’s Biographical Page
7. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell | Radio Astronomy, Astrophysics
Burnell (née Bell) was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom. She became interested in astronomy at an early age. She took her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1965 from the University of Glasgow, and received her PhD in 1969 from the University of Cambridge. While at Cambridge — and still known as Jocelyn Bell — she was enlisted by her doctoral adviser, Antony Hewish, to work with Martin Ryle and others on the construction and testing of a new radio telescope designed to study the then-recently discovered radio sources known as “quasi-stellar objects,” or quasars. In 1967, while poring over data from the new telescope, Bell discovered a never-before-observed type of signal being emitted with great regularity at the rate of about one and one-third pulses per second. She immediately showed the strange signal to her adviser, and the two worked closely together to try to understand what she had found.
Initially given the facetious name of “LGM-1” (for “little green men”) by Bell and Hewish, their discovery was soon conjectured by Thomas Gold to be caused by a highly magnetized, rapidly rotating neutron star. This conjecture proved to be correct, and the phenomenon then became officially known as a “pulsating star,” or pulsar. In 1968, Bell married Martin Burnell and, after taking her degree the following year, at first worked only part-time. Eventually, the couple divorced and Burnell resumed a full-time academic career, initially as Professor of Physics at the Open University (1991 — 2001). After occupying a visiting professorship at Princeton University, she next served as Dean of Science at the University of Bath (2001 — 2004). During this time, she also served as President of the Royal Astronomical Society (2002 — 2004), and later as President of the Institute of Physics (2008 — 2010). She is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford. Though passed over for the Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Hewish and Ryle in 1974, Burnell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2003 and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2007, among many other honors too numerous to mention.
- Web resource: Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s Biographical Page
8. Stephanie A. Burns | Organic Chemistry
Burns was born in Torrington, Wyoming (a small town of less than 7,000 souls). She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University in Miami, and a PhD in organic chemistry from Iowa State University. She then did post-doctoral work at the University of Montpellier, France. In 1983, she joined the French division of the American company, Dow Corning, as a researcher specializing in organosilicon chemistry (the chemistry of organometallic compounds containing carbon — silicon bonds). While still working for the company as a research scientist, Burns invented several new types of heat-resistant synthetic rubber made from silicone (a polymer consisting of long silicon — oxygen chains, as well as carbon atoms). She holds three patents for these inventions.
Burns soon made the transition at Dow Corning from the laboratory bench to the corporate suite. In 1997, she moved to Brussels, where she oversaw important aspects of the company’s European operations. In 2000, she returned to the United States in order to assume the role of Executive Vice President of the company, and to serve on its board of directors. In 2003, she was named President and Chief Operating Officer of Dow Corning, and in 2004 she added CEO to her titles, serving in that capacity until her retirement in 2011. She was also Chairman of the company from 2006 until her retirement. Under Burns’s leadership, Dow Corning began developing new uses for organosilicon compounds in cutting-edge areas like solar energy and biotechnology.
- Web resource: Stephanie Burn’s Resource Page
9. Ana Caraiani | Mathematics
Caraiani was born in Bucharest, Romania. She earned her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Princeton University in 2007. At Princeton, she wrote her senior thesis on Galois representations under the supervision of Andrew Wiles, widely known for having completed a proof in 1995 of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Caraiani did her doctoral work at Harvard under the supervision of Wiles’s former student, Richard Taylor. Her doctoral dissertation concerned local-global compatibility in the Langlands correspondence. After graduating in 2012, she first taught briefly at the University of Chicago, before returning to Princeton University from 2013 to 2016. While at Princeton, she also served as a Veblen Research Instructor in Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). Since 2016, Caraiani has been a Bonn Junior Fellow at the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics (HCM), a highly prestigious mathematics research institute located in Bonn, Germany. She has also been invited for shorter visits to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at University of California–Berkeley and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.
So far, Caraiani has worked primarily on problems at the interface of the Langlands correspondence with arithmetic algebraic geometry. (The local Langlands correspondences are a part of the overarching Langlands program, which explores conjectured deep connections among diverse areas of mathematics, such as number theory, algebra, and analysis.) Regarding the direction of her future research, Caraiani has said that she hopes to extend the results, in work done jointly with Peter Scholze, about torsion in the cohomology of compact unitary Shimura varieties to the non-compact case. In the spring of 2018, Caraiani is due to take up a position as a von Neumann Fellow at the IAS.
- Web resource: Ana Caraiani’s Home Page
10. Deborah Charlesworth | Genetics, Evolutionary Biology
Charlesworth (née Maltby) was born in the United Kingdom. She received her PhD in genetics in 1968 from Cambridge University. Married to the geneticist Brian Charlesworth in 1967, for many years she followed in the wake of his career, holding only temporary positions at a number of institutions, including Cambridge University, the University of Chicago, Liverpool University, the University of Sussex, and the University of North Carolina, before finally received a full-time appointment as Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago in 1988. In 1997, she moved to the University of Edinburgh, where she is currently a Professorial Research Fellow.
Charlesworth has made signal contributions to our understanding of population genetics and evolution, especially in relation to genetic recombination, sex chromosomes, and mating systems in both plants and animals. More particularly, her work on linkage disequilibrium in the genome region containing the self-incompatibility alleles of the plant Arabidopsis lyrata has been widely recognized as highly original and important. Charlesworth has published more than 300 research papers, which have been cited more than 10,000 times. In 2005, she was named a Fellow of the Royal Society.
- Web resource: Deborah Charlesworth’s Resource Page
11. Uma Chowdhry | Chemistry, Engineering, Materials Science
Chowdhry was born in Mumbai (then Bombay), India. She received her bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Science in Mumbai in 1968. In 1970, she received a master’s degree in engineering from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in Pasadena, California. After working for two years with the Ford Motor Company, she returned to graduate school, taking her PhD in materials science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. The following year, Chowdhry joined the DuPont company as a research scientist at the DuPont Experimental Facility in Wilmington, Delaware.
While still at the laboratory bench, Chowdhry worked primarily on developing new ceramic materials for the field of high-temperature superconductivity. This work generated over fifty research papers and twenty patents. In addition to her work on ceramics and superconductors, she has also worked in the areas of catalysis, proton conductors, microelectronics, and nanotechnology. In 2002, she was named DuPont’s Vice President of Global, Central Research & Development. In 2006, she became Senior Vice President of the company, as well as Chief Science and Technology Officer, positions she continued to hold until her retirement in 2010. In 2003, Chowdhry was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- Web resource: Uma Chowdhry’s Biographical Page
12. Mary L. (Missy) Cummings | Aeronautical and Systems Engineering
Cummings was born in a small town in Tennessee. Cummings received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy in 1988. She received her master’s degree in space systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1994, and her PhD in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2004. From 1988 until 1999, Cummings was a naval officer and military pilot. In 1989, she was one of the first women to land a supersonic jet fighter — a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet — on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Cummings began her academic career while still in the Navy, at Pennsylvania State University, afterwards also teaching at Virginia Tech. In 2010, MIT appointed her an Associate Professor in its Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where she was Director of the Humans and Automation Lab in the Engineering Systems Division. She is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University, where once again she is Director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab (the new incarnation of the lab she previously headed up at MIT). She also holds joint appointments with Duke’s Institute of Brain Sciences and Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Cummings’s research extends across several fields, including human interaction with autonomous vehicle systems, modeling human interaction with complex systems, and decision support design for time-pressured, uncertain systems. In addition, she has a strong interest in the ethics of technology, including the impact of technology on society.
- Web resource: Mary “Missy” Cumming’s Home Page
13. Judith A. Curry | Geophysical Sciences, Climatology
Curry took her bachelor’s degree in geography from Northern Illinois University in 1974, and her PhD in geophysical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982. In 2017, under intense pressure and amid public controversy, she resigned her long-time position as Professor in the School of Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech University, where she had served as Chair of the School from 2002 until 2013. Prior to coming to Georgia Tech, Curry had been Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and before that had taught at a number of other prestigious universities, including Penn State, Purdue, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published nearly 200 peer-reviewed papers, and is co-author or -editor of three important textbooks: with Vitaly I. Khvorostyanov, Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Microphysics of Clouds (Cambridge University Press, 2014); with James R. Holton and John Pyle, Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences (Academic Press, 2003); and with Peter J. Webster, Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans (Academic Press, 1998). Curry has served on NASA’s Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee, on the Climate Working Group of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and on the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Climate Research Group. In 2004, she was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 2007, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In spite of these solid credentials and achievements — and despite her entrenched position within the institutions of mainstream American academic climatology — Curry came under vitriolic attack for publicly censuring what she perceives as the growing politicization of climate science, which she feels has resulted in claims that are not adequately supported scientifically, in the stifling of needed further research, and in intimidation, fear, and conformity throughout the discipline. It was this courageous public stance — including an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 and culminating in congressional testimony in 2015 and again in 2017 — that eventually led to her resignation from her tenured position at Georgia Tech earlier this year.
- Web resource: Judith Curry’s Home Page
14. Dame Athene M. Donald | Physics, Materials Science
Donald (née Griffith) was born in London. She was educated at the Camden School for Girls and Girton College, University of Cambridge. She took her bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics from the latter institution, where she went on to take her PhD in 1977 for work on electron microscopy. After postdoctoral work at Cornell University in the US, where she switched the focus of her research from metals to polymers, she returned to Cambridge in 1981, and two years later became a member of the world-renowned Cavendish Laboratory there, forever associated with the name of Ernest Rutherford. Since 1998, she has been Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, where she is also Master of Churchill College.
Donald works within the Soft Matter and Biological Physics group at the Cavendish Laboratory. Over the years, she has moved from the study of nonliving polymer and colloidal systems to research on the soft-matter properties of living systems, especially protein aggregation. Of the many techniques at the disposal of the soft-matter physicist, she is particularly noted for her work using the environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM), a device which allows for the study of untreated or “wet” specimens, and hence is of particular value for studying the physics of biological systems (macromolecules, organelles, and cells). Donald’s work has placed her at the forefront of efforts to develop and institutionalize the burgeoning new field of “biological physics.” In 1999, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and in 2010, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).
- Web resource: Athene Donald’s Home Page
15. Jennifer A. Doudna | Biochemistry, Cell Biology
Doudna was born in Washington, DC, but spent most of her childhood in Hilo, Hawaii. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1985 from Pomona College and her PhD in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology in 1989 from Harvard Medical School. At Harvard, she worked on ribozymes under Jack W. Szostak. She did post-doctoral work on the same topic at the University of Colorado-Boulder under Thomas R. Cech, who had just won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA. After several years at Yale, Doudna moved to the University of California-Berkeley in 2002 in order to be near the synchrotron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She is currently Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at University of California–Berkeley. She has published nearly 200 research papers and is co-author of a popular molecular biology textbook. However, Doudna is undoubtedly best-known for her recent involvement in the development of a powerful new method of gene editing that in a few short years has already revolutionized genetic engineering, and whose future contributions to medicine — therapy as well as basic research — are incalculable.
The method is called “CRISPR/Cas9.” CRISPR stands for “clustered, regularly spaced, short palindromic repeats,” and is basically a region of the bacterial chromosome that acts as a spacer between different coding regions, or genes. Cas9 is an enzyme produced by certain bacteria that acts like scissors, cutting a chromosome at the CRISPR region. The discovery of this pair of structures and how they operate together has made it possible for the first time for scientists to contemplate “editing” genes virtually at will. Teaming up with Emmanuelle Charpentier, now of Umeå University in Sweden, Doudna published a seminal paper on the CRISP/Cas9 technique in 2012. Since then, however, other labs have claimed to have made similar discoveries independently, and there has been a considerable amount of legal wrangling over priority, the outcome of which has many important implications — not just for the Nobel Prize and other forms of recognition — but potentially for biotech ventures that may someday be worth billions of dollars.
- Doudna also made our list of “50 People Who Deserve a Nobel Prize — 2017 Update.”
- Web resource: Jennifer A. Doudna’s Home Page
16. Persis S. Drell | Particle Physics, Engineering
As the daughter of physicist Sidney Drell, Persis Drell grew up on the campus of Stanford University, where today she is Provost. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics in 1977 from Wellesley College, and her PhD in atomic physics in 1983 from University of California–Berkeley. She did post-doctoral work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and in 1988, she took a position as Assistant Professor at Cornell, where she was appointed a full Professor 1998. In 2002, she moved to Stanford University as Professor and Associate Director of Research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). In 2007, she was named Director of SLAC, a position she held until 2012.
During her tenure as Director, Drell oversaw the so-called BaBar experiment conducted at SLAC by an international consortium of over 500 scientists, which was designed to study the relationship between matter and anti-matter by investigating the phenomenon of charge parity violation. The name of this important experiment (inspired by Babar the Elephant) comes from the symbols B and B¯ (“B-bar”), standing for the B meson and its antiparticle, respectively. In 2014, Drell was named Dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, with joint appoints as James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor of Physics. In 2017, she became Provost of Stanford University.
- Web resource: Persis S. Drell’s Home Page
17. Sandra Faber | Astronomy, Astrophysics
Faber was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She took her bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1966, with a major in physics and minors in mathematics and astronomy. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 1972, with a dissertation on optical observational astronomy. In 1972, she became the first woman to join the staff of the Lick Observatory at University of California–Santa Cruz. In 1976, working with one of her graduate students, Robert Jackson, Faber observed a correlation — now known as the Faber-Jackson relation — between the brightness and spectra of galaxies and the orbital speeds and motions of the stars within them. In the early 1980s, now collaborating with Martin Reese and others, she published an influential series of articles on cold dark matter, proving that dark matter could not be composed of fast-moving neutrinos, and thus that the hot dark matter hypothesis must be wrong.
Next, Faber became closely involved with the development of the two Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano on earth, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Then as now, the Kecks are the world’s most powerful optical instruments. Their highly innovative design includes a ten-meter primary mirror consisting of thirty-six hexagonal segments. Faber was crucial in selling the concept behind the original Keck instrument to governments and private funding agencies around the world, changing forever the face of optical astronomy. She remained closely involved with the development of the second-generation Keck II telescope, as well as with plans for the wide-field planetary camera for the Hubble Space Telescope. When a flaw was discovered in the Hubble’s main optical system, Faber was charged with putting together a team, which diagnosed the cause as spherical aberration, thus permitting a technical fix to salvage the mission. The Hubble went on to a long and fruitful career producing many outstanding images of the far reaches of the universe. Faber is currently University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at University of California–Santa Cruz.
- Web resource: Sandra Faber’s Home Page
18. Wendy L. Freedman | Astronomy, Astrophysics
Freedman was born in Toronto, where she received her bachelor’s degree in astronomy from the University of Toronto in 1979. She remained there for her graduate work, as well, taking her PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from the same university in 1984. Upon graduation, she joined the staff of the Carnegie Observatories, which operate the telescopes at Las Campanas, high in the Andes mountains of northern Chile, but whose headquarters are in Pasadena, California. She worked there first as a post-doc, then three years later as a regular faculty member, becoming the first woman on the permanent staff. While at the Carnegie, where in 2003 she became the Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director of Observatories, Freedman worked on refining estimates of the size and age of the universe based on improved observations of Cepheid variable stars. The known relation between the periodicity of the rotation and the brightness of these stars has long been one of the main tools astronomers use to calculate intergalactic distances.
After the Hubble Space Telescope became operational in the mid-1990s, Freedman was selected to be co-leader of the Intergalactic Distance Scale project, an international team tasked with using the Hubble’s greatly increased observational power to refine the value of the Hubble constant, a key value upon which depends the rate of the cosmic expansion, and thus our knowledge of the size and age of the universe. For the past fifteen years or so, Freedman has been involved with another international team planning and building the next generation of earth-based, optical telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). With seven segments collectively equivalent to an 80-ft. primary mirror, the GMT is being built at the Las Campanas site in the Andes under the auspices of the Carnegie Observatories. When fully operational around 2025, the GMT will be the world’s largest optical instrument, with a resolving power an order of magnitude greater than the Hubble’s. In 2014, Freedman moved to the University of Chicago, where she the John & Marion Sullivan University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
- Web resource: Wendy L. Freedman’s Home Page
19. Katherine Freese | Theoretical Physics, Cosmology
Freese was born in Freiburg, Germany (West Germany, at the time). Brought to the US at the age of nine, she received her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1977 from Princeton University (the second woman there to major in the subject), her master’s degree in physics in 1981 from Columbia, and her PhD in physics in 1984 from the University of Chicago, where David Schramm directed her dissertation. After post-docs at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at University of California–Santa Barbara, and at University of California–Berkeley, she was hired as an Assistant Professor at MIT, where she taught from 1987 until 1991. Subsequently, she moved to the University of Michigan, where she is currently George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics.
Freese’s main area of research has been on the dark matter/dark energy problem. In particular, she has made several proposals for ways to detect dark matter experimentally, which have led directly to the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, and a worldwide consortium of efforts to detect a dark matter “wind” as the Earth and the solar system orbit the Milky Way galaxy. Her work has definitely ruled out the MACHO (massive compact halo object) theory of dark matter, thus giving support to WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). In more recent theoretical work, Freese has advanced several conjectures regarding dark matter, including a model known as the Cardassian expansion which replaces dark matter with a modification of Einstein’s field equations, and another hypothesis known as “dark stars,” which if confirmed would be a new type of star powered by dark matter annihilation rather than fusion. Finally, Freese has also worked on improving the inflationary version of the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe. Her proposal, known as natural inflation, is a theoretically well-motivated idea that uses axion-like particles to provide the required flat potentials to drive the cosmic expansion. In 2013, the European Space Agency’s Planck Satellite observed data which are consistent with Freese’s natural inflation model.
- Web resource: Katherine Freese’s Home Page
20. Margaret J. Geller | Astrophysics
Geller was born in Ithaca, New York. She received her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1970 from University of California–Berkeley, and her PhD in physics in 1975 from Princeton, where she worked with P.J.E. Peebles. After post-docs at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, she returned to Harvard, where she served as an Assistant Professor of Astronomy from 1980 until 1983. She then moved to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (a partner in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), where she has worked ever since as a member of the permanent scientific staff. Geller is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the American Physical Society, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a member of the physics section of the US National Academy of Sciences. She has also received numerous prizes and lectureships, including the Newcomb Cleveland Prize (AAAS) in 1989, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1990, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (American Astronomical Society) in 2010, the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize (American Physical Society) in 2013, and the Karl Schwarzschild Medal (German Astronomical Society) in 2014.
In order to help promote public interest in astronomy and physics, Geller lectures frequently all around the world, and has made a number of educational short films and videos. Her particular field of expertise is the large-scale structure of the universe, and her best-known scientific achievement is the creation of pioneering maps of galaxy clusters and other super-galactic structures. One such effort, the Second Center for Astrophysics Redshift Survey (CfA2) conducted in 1989 by a team of American astronomers headed up by Geller and John Huchra, led to the discovery of the Great Wall, an enormous filament of galaxies that is one of the largest known material objects in the universe.
- Geller is also featured in our article “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today.”
- Web resource: Margaret J. Geller’s Home Page
21. Fabiola Gianotti | Experimental Particle Physics
Gianotti was born in Rome. She received her PhD in experimental particle physics in 1989 from the University of Milan. After graduation, she occupied a number of post-doc positions. In 1994, she was appointed a research physicist in the Physics Department of the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) near Geneva — now known officially as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (but retaining the original acronym) and site of the Large Hadron Collider, currently the world’s largest particle accelerator. Gianotti has worked at CERN ever since. She has served on the scientific advisory boards or councils of numerous international organizations, including the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, Fermilab in the US, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany, and the European Physical Society.
Gianotti is a corresponding member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei — the most prestigious scientific society in her native Italy, which traces its roots back to the time of Galileo — as well as a foreign associate member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Science. Moreover, in 2013, she won the Italian Physical Society’s prestigious Enrico Fermi Prize. Gianotti has been involved with many important experiments at CERN over the years, but she is no doubt best known for her work as project leader of one of the two teams at CERN which undertook the search for the Higgs boson, beginning in 2009. The team she led in preparing, running, and analyzing the experiment on the Large Hadron Collider comprised some 3000 physicists from thirty-eight different countries. In July of 2012, it fell to Gianotti to make the announcement to the world that the Higgs boson had indeed been detected. In 2016, she began a five-year term as Director-General of CERN.
- Web resource: Fabiola Gianotti’s Resource Page
22. Carolyn W. (“Carol”) Greider | Molecular Biology
Greider was born in San Diego, California, and raised mostly in Davis (where her father was a physics professor). She took her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1983 from University of California–Santa Barbara. During this period, she spent time at the University of Göttingen in Germany, where as an undergraduate she already made important discoveries. Greider obtained her PhD in molecular biology in 1987 from University of California–Berkeley, where she worked under Elizabeth Blackburn (see above on this list). When she joined Blackburn’s laboratory for her doctoral work in April of 1984, Greider focused on the search for the enzyme believed to be implicated in adding new nucleotide bases to the ends of chromosomes to replace ones lost during DNA replication. Working with the fresh-water protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila as a model organism, Greider obtained the first results indicating that the enzyme now known as telomerase might be the molecule they were seeking on Christmas Day of 1984.
After six months of additional experimenting for the sake of verification, Greider and Blackburn published their ground-breaking paper on “telomere terminal transferase” (as they originally styled the molecule) in December of 1985. Many years later in 2009, the grad student and her adviser shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Jack W. Szostak, who had been working along similar lines independently). After completing her dissertation, Greider worked at the world-renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. During her time at CSHL, she worked extensively on the connection between telomeres and longevity in multicelluar aninmals, using so-called “telomerase knockout mice” (mice genetically altered not to produce telomerase) as her model organism. She also became involved in efforts to develop new technologies based on her discoveries, notably by joining the Scientific Advisory Board of Geron Corporation. Since 2014, Greider has been Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Daniel Nathans Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins University, as well as heading up the Greider Lab there.
- Web resource: Carol W. Greider’s Biographical Page
23. Lene Vestergaard Hau | Condensed-Matter Physics, Optical Physics, Chemistry
Hau was born in the small city of Velje in Denmark. She received her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees in physics all from the University of Aarhus. While working on her dissertation (on using silicon crystals as electrical conductors), she did research for seven months at CERN near Geneva. After graduating in 1991, she joined the Rowlands Institute for Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a scientific staff member. Both at the Rowlands and after moving to Harvard in 1999 on a two-year fellowship (at the end of which she was awarded tenure), Hau began working on a pair of exotic phenomena: Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC), which occur in certain materials at ultra-low temperatures (~2 °K), giving rise to unusual properties such as superfluidity; and slow light, in which the group velocity of photons interacting with a medium may be reduced far below the familiar value c — the speed of light in a vacuum. Hau’s original application to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund her work on BEC was rejected on the grounds that her background was in theoretical physics and she did not have the experience to do such difficult experimental work.
Nothing daunted, she plunged ahead, gained alternative funding, and became one of the first researchers in the world to create a so-called “pure” BEC from a highly dilute gas (as opposed to helium-4, which is a liquid). However, she is best known for her pathbreaking work on slow light. In 1999, she and her team at Harvard used a BEC to slow a beam of light down to seventeen meters per second. Two years later, they succeeded in stopping light in its tracks. In her more recent work, Hau has been exploring novel interactions between ultracold atoms, slow light, and nanoscale systems. Her new work is thought to have great potential to revolutionize a number of different fields, from energy (photovoltaic cells, synthetic biofuels) to advanced forms of astronomical instrumentation to quantum computing. Hau is currently the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics at Harvard University.
- Hau also made our list of “50 People Who Deserve a Nobel Prize — 2017 Update.”
- Hau is also featured in our article “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today.”
- Web resource: Lene Vestergaard Hau’s Home Page
24. Eva Jablonka | Genetics, Evolutionary Biology
Jablonka (née Tavori) was born in Poland. With her family, she emigrated to Israel in 1957. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1976 and her master’s degree in microbiology in 1980, both from Ben-Gurion University. Her master’s thesis won Israel’s Landau Prize for outstanding master’s of science work. In 1988, she earned her PhD in Genetics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she worked under the supervision of Howard Cedar. Her dissertation won her nation’s Marcus Prize for outstanding PhD work. While a PhD student, Jablonka served as an Assistant Professor at Ben-Gurion University, teaching courses on genetics, microbiology, and biochemistry. Both before and after obtaining her PhD, she had a series of research assistantships and teaching fellowships, notably at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, the Medical Research Council’s Mammalian Development Unit in London, and the Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the Hebrew University.
After teaching for several years in the Biology Department at Tel Aviv University, Jablonka moved to the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas there, where she is currently a Professor and lectures mainly on the history and philosophical foundations of biology. In the years since, she has had numerous visiting professorships, including at Bielefeld University in Germany and University of California–Berkeley in the US. Jablonka is mainly known for her pathbreaking work on the integration of epigenetics (AKA Lamarckian inheritance) and evolutionary theory. She is a major contributor to what has come to be called the the “extended evolutionary synthesis” (EES). The author or co-author of more than fifty peer-reviewed papers, Jablonka has co-authored three influential textbooks: (with Marion J. Lamb) Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension (Oxford University Press, 1995); (also with Lamb) Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, 2nd ed. (MIT Press, 2005); and (with Eytan Avital) Animal Traditions: Behavioural Inheritance in Evolution (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
- Web resource: Eva Jablonka’s Home Page
25. Faiza Mohammed al-Kharafi | Chemistry, Electrochemistry, Technology
Al-Kharafi was born in Kuwait. She received her bachelor’s of science degree in 1967 from Ain Shams University in Cairo. She then received her master’s degree in 1972 and her PhD in 1975, both from Kuwait University. While still in graduate school, she helped organize the new Corrosion and Electrochemistry Research Laboratory at Kuwait University. After graduating, she taught in the same university’s Department of Chemistry from 1975 until 1981, where she became department Chair in 1984 and a full Professor of Chemistry in 1987. From 1986 until 1989, she served as Dean of the Faculty of Science. In 1993, she was appointed Rector (an office later known as President) of Kuwait University, to help reconstruct the university in the aftermath of the trauma of the First Gulf War (1990–1991). The first woman to lead a major university in the Middle East, al-Kharafi remained in the post of President until 2002.
In her scientific work, al-Kharafi was primarily engaged in the study of corrosion in various technological systems, including engine cooling systems, distillation units for crude oil, and high temperature geothermal brines. She also worked on the electrochemical behavior of a wide variety of metals and metal alloys, from aluminum to vanadium to cadmium to low-carbon steel. Moreover, she collaborated in the discovery of a new class of molybdenum-based catalysts, which can be used to enhance the octane rating of gasoline without the use of undesirable benzene by-products. Al-Kharafi currently serves as a member of several boards of directors, including those of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science and of the Kuwait-MIT Center for Natural Resources and the Environment. In addition, she is Vice-President of the World Academy of Sciences.
- Web resource: Faiza Mohammad al-Kharafi’s Resource Page
26. Mary-Claire King | Genetics
King was born in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1966 from Carlteon College, and her PhD in genetics in 1973 from University of California–Berkeley, where she worked under Allan Wilson. King’s dissertation consisted of a comparative protein analysis of humans and chimpanzees, on the basis of which she was the first researcher to determine that the two species share the vast majority of their genes in common. (Her original figure of 99% has been revised downward only slightly over the years — to around 97%.) After a post-doc at University of California–San Francisco, King joined the University of California–Berkeley faculty as a professor of genetics and epidemiology, a position she held from 1976 until 1995, when she moved to the University of Washington. In 1990, while still at Berkeley, she discovered that a single gene on chromosome seventeen (later called BRCA-1) plays an important role in many types of breast cancer.
Not only did King’s discovery lead to genetic tests that have enabled women with a family history of breast cancer to obtain more complete information about their own prospects for coming down with the disease, the techniques she developed in the isolation of BRCA-1 have also proven extremely useful to countless other researchers working on a host of other genetic illnesses. In the intervening years, King has branched out considerably, working on the genetics of other conditions, such as deafness, but also on projects such as using genetics to help identify the remains of those killed in civil conflicts in Argentina, El Salvador, and elsewhere, as well as to reconstruct prehistoric human migration patterns. A member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2005, and recipient of the Gruber Foundation Genetics Prize (2004), the Lasker Award (2014), and honorary doctorates too numerous to mention, King is currently the American Cancer Society Research Professor at the University of Washington.
- Web resource: Mary-Claire King’s Home Page
27. Lisa C. Klein | Materials Science, Engineering
Klein was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in metallurgy in 1973 and her PhD in ceramics in 1977, both from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. Upon graduating in 1977, she joined the School of Engineering at Rutgers University, receiving tenure there in 1981 (the first woman to do so). She has been a visiting scientist at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the University of Grenoble in France, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. Klein’s field of scientific expertise lies in the sol-gel process, a method for producing solid materials such as glasses, ceramics, and organic-inorganic hybrid compounds from small molecules. Sol-gel processing methods refined by her have been applied to the development of a host of new devices, including ceramic membranes, solid electrolytes, fuel cell components, and planar waveguides.
Klein’s best-known scientific contribution is probably her work on electrochromic window coatings. These are ceramic coatings that can be lightened or darkened through the use of a manually controlled dimmer attached to a battery. Reflecting away heat while still transmitting light in summer, as well as permitting solar heating in winter, such coatings are more versatile and efficient than traditional blinds and tintings, thus saving on heating and cooling costs. Klein is currently Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers University, as well as Graduate Director of the university, President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) there, and co-editor of the Journal of the American Ceramics Society.
- Web resource: Lisa Klein’s Home Page
28. Judith P. Klinman | Biochemistry, Enzymology
Klinman was born in Philadelphia. She took her bachelor’s degree in 1962 and her PhD in 1966, both from the University of Pennsylvania. She did post-doctoral research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, where she worked with David H. Samuel, and at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, where she worked with Irwin Rose. Klinman stayed on as a permanent scientific staff member of the Institute for Cancer Research, where she worked for many years, before moving to University of California–Berkeley in 1978. Klinman’s scientific career has been devoted to the study of enzyme catalysis. In her early work, she developed kinetic isotope effects for use as an experimental probe for studying the extremely rapid individual steps involved in enzyme action. In 1990, while working with a particular copper-containing amine oxidase present in bovine blood plasma, her team discovered the presence of the topaquinone (TPQ) molecule at the enzyme’s active site, thus demonstrating the existence of a new class of enzymes (quinoenzymes) that require protein-derived cofactors for proper functioning.
Klinman’s pathbreaking work on quinoenzymes has opened up a whole new field of study with significant theoretical and therapeutic implications. Her most recent work focuses on the role of quantum mechanical tunneling in enzyme-catalyzed hydrogen activation reactions — a phenomenon she studies with new technological probes also developed by her team. In 2012, Klinman was awarded the National Medal of Science, while in 2015, she received the Mildred Cohn Award in Biological Chemistry from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Klinman is currently Professor of the Graduate School and Chancellor’s Professor at University of California–Berkeley, where she leads the Klinman Lab in the College of Chemistry.
- Web resource: Judith P. Klinman’s Home Page
29. Barbara Liskov | Computer Science, Computer Engineering
Liskov (née Huberman) was born in Los Angeles, California, but grew up in the San Francisco area. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics (with a minor in physics) in 1961 from University of California–Berkeley. She applied to the Mathematics Department at Princeton University for graduate school, but they were still not accepting female graduate students at the time. She was accepted by Berkeley, but Liskov chose instead to go to work for the Mitre Corporation, a not-for-profit, research-and-development government contractor based in the Boston area. It was at Mitre that Liskov became interested in the still-infant field of computer programming. After a year, she moved to Harvard, where she worked on the problem of automated natural language translation. After a time, she decided to go back to school, and earned her PhD in computer science from Stanford University in 1968 — one of the first women anywhere to earn a doctorate in that field. At Stanford, Liskov worked closely with the artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer, John McCarthy; her dissertation was titled “A Program to Play Chess Endgames.” Upon graduation, she returned to Mitre, where she worked for many years as a member of their permanent research staff.
Among Liskov’s many achievements in the fields of computer science and engineering are the following: the Venus operating systems (a low-cost, interactive time-sharing system); implementation of the CLU programming language and its extension, Argus (the first high-level language to support distributed programs, employing the technique of promise pipelining); and Thor (an object-oriented database system). She is also known for the eponymous Liskov Substitution Principle, an important logical/mathematical procedure in the implementation of any object-oriented programming system. In 2004, Liskov received the John von Neumann Medal bestowed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), while in 2008 she won the Alan M. Turing Award bestowed by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) — two of the highest honors in her field. Liskov is currently Institute Professor at MIT, as well as Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department in the School of Engineering.
- Web resource: Barbara Liskov’s Home Page
30. Jane X. Luu | Astronomy, Astrophysics
Luu (née Luu Le Hang) was born in Saigon, in what is now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam but was at the time the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). In April of 1975, the 11-year-old Luu fled South Vietnam with her family. After some time first in a refugee camp, then with relatives living in Paducah, Kentucky, the family finally settled in Ventura, California, where Luu attended high school. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1984 from Stanford University. After some time at University of California–Berkeley, she moved to MIT, where she received her PhD in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science in 1990. After several post-docs, Luu taught at Harvard and at Leiden University in the Netherlands, before returning to MIT, where she is currently a technical staff member in the Active Optical Systems Group at Lincoln Laboratory.
While a graduate student at MIT, Luu had worked closely with David C. Jewitt. When Jewitt moved to the University of Hawaii in 1988, Luu went along in order to continue working with him, while remaining an MIT student. Upon graduation in 1990, Luu took up a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which enabled her to continue to travel to Hawaii in order to make use of the 2.2-meter telescope atop Mauna Kea. It was there in 1992 that she and Jewitt made the discovery for which each remains best known: the Kuiper Belt, a vast disc of small, icy bodies orbiting the sun beyond Neptune. It was this discovery that eventually led to Pluto’s being demoted from the status of a planet to that of a Kuiper Belt object. Luu has continued to work on characterizing a great many new Kuiper Belt objects over the intervening years. In recognition of her revolutionary discoveries regarding the outer reaches of our solar system, in 2012 Luu was awarded two of the most prestigious prizes in her field: the Shaw Prize and the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics.
- Web resource: Jane X. Luu’s Resource Page
31. Marissa A. Mayer | Computer Engineering, Artificial Intelligence
Mayer was born in Wausau, Wisconsin. She took her bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems in 1997 and her master’s degree in computer science in 1999, both from Stanford University. For both degrees, she specialized in artificial intelligence (AI), including developing a travel advice software system with a natural language user interface. Upon graduation, Mayer interned at SRI International in Menlo Park, California, and at UBS Financial’s research lab based in Zurich, Switzerland. Next, she turned down an offer to teach at Carnegie Mellon University in order to join the then-new Google company as employee number twenty. Mayer was the company’s first female engineer. She started out writing code, as well as supervising small teams tasked with the design and development of Google’s search offerings. Mayer holds several patents in artificial intelligence and interface design. Moving quickly into management, Mayer placed her own personal stamp on the company, especially as the person mainly responsible for the elegant, minimalist look of Google’s home page, with a single search bar centered on the page surrounded by white space. From there, she went on to oversee the launch and development of many of Google’s iconic products, overseeing the development of a host of new AI-based initiatives, including Google AdWords, Google Search, Google Images, Google Maps, Google Product Search, Google Toolbar, iGoogle, and Gmail, among others.
In 2005, Mayer was named Vice President of Search Products and User Experience at Goggle. In 2011, she spearheaded Google’s $125 million acquisition of the survey site, Zagat, to bolster Google Maps. During her years at Google, Mayer also frequently functioned as one of the company’s most prominent spokespersons. In 2012, she was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo! However, as a result of an ultimately unsuccessful $1+ billion acquisition of Tumblr undertaken to buoy the company’s sagging fortunes, as well as other controversial cost-saving and performance-enhancing measures, she became unpopular with the company’s rank-and-file. Mayer resigned from Yahoo! in June of 2017, in conjunction with the company’s sale to Verizon Communications. Mayer, who currently resides in San Francisco, has a net worth estimated to be around $540 million.
- Web resource: Marissa Mayer’s Biographical Page
32. Alison B. Miller | Mathematics
Miller was home-schooled in the small town of Niskayuna, near Schenectady in upstate New York. She competed on the US team at the 45th International Mathematical Olympiad in 2004 in Athens, Greece, where she won a gold medal — a first ever for an American woman. She received her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in mathematics in 2008 from Harvard University, where while still a undergraduate she published two papers on modular forms in number theory, and a third paper giving the best known upper bounds on superpatterns in the theory of permutation patterns. While at Harvard, she also won the Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize for three years running (2005 — 2007), equaling a record previously set by Ioana Dumitriu. Her senior thesis, “Explicit Class Field Theory in Function Fields: Gross-Stark Units and Drinfeld Modules,” won the Hoopes Prize. Following her bachelor’s degree, Miller attended Cambridge University in England for a year on a Churchill Scholarship.
Miller earned her PhD in 2014 from Princeton University, where she worked under the supervision of Fields Medalist, Manjul Bhargava. Her dissertation was titled, “Counting Simple Knots via Arithmetic Invariants.” Knot theory is a sub-discipline of topology with potentially important applications in quantum field theory, condensed-matter theory, and other areas of theoretical physics. After receiving her PhD, Miller returned to Harvard where she is currently a Benjamin Peirce and NSF Postdoctoral Fellow. She continues to work on algebraic number theory, arithmetic invariant theory, and their connections with classical knot invariants.
- Web resource: Alison B. Miller’s Home Page
33. Sophie Morel | Mathematics
Morel was born in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a southeastern suburb of Paris. She completed her undergraduate work at the École Normale Supérieure, and earned her PhD in 2005 at the Université de Paris-Sud XI under the direction of Gérard Laumon. Her dissertation, titled “Complexes d’intersection des compactifications de Baily-Borel – le cas des groupes unitaires sur Q” [Intersection Complexes of Baily-Borel Compactifications — The Case of Unitary Groups Over Q], relates to a problem in the Langlands Program, an ambitious group of conjectures which seeks to unite various fields of mathematics — such as algebraic number theory, algebraic geometry, and representation theory (a generalization of group theory) — into a sort of Grand Unified Theory of mathematics.
After completing her PhD, Morel spent three years (from 2006 until 2009) at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, in the US. In 2009, she accepted a teaching position at Harvard University. In 2012, Morel moved to Princeton University, where she is currently a Professor of Mathematics. Since moving to Princeton, she has also been the beneficiary of two years’ additional affiliation with the IAS (2010 — 2011; 2012 — 2013). Moreover, between 2006 and 2011, Morel was a Clay Research Fellow under the auspices of the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Morel continues to do research and publish on the Langlands Program.
- Web resource: Sophie Morel’s Home Page
34. May-Britt Moser | Psychology, Neuroscience
Moser was born in Fosnavåg, a small town on one of the westernmost islands off the coast of Norway. She attended the University of Oslo, where she began to study the link between brain and behavior in the laboratory of Terje Sagvolden. It was also at this time that she met her future husband and close scientific collaborator, Edvard I. Moser (the couple married in 1985). She received her undergraduate degree in general sciences with a special emphasis on neurobiology in 1983. For her master’s degree, she worked in the laboratory of Per Andersen, graduating in psychology and neurobiology in 1990. For her PhD, Moser continued working in the Andersen lab, where she now focused on the the role of the hippocampus and associated neural structures in learning. During this time, she also did a stint in the lab of Richard G. Morris at the University of Edinburgh. It was Morris who had originally conceived of the water maze — a specialized device for studying the process of learning in rats — which Moser adapted for her own work.
Moser received her doctorate in neurophysiology in 1995, after which she occupied a short post-doctoral visiting fellowship at University College London to study with the renowned neuroscientist, John O’Keefe. In 1996, she was appointed Associate Professor of Biological Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, where she advanced to the rank of full Professor in 2000. In 2002, the group she spearheaded at NTNU became known as the Centre for the Biology of Memory. Moser also helped establish the Institute for Systems Neuroscience at NTNU in 2007. She is currently Head of Department at NTNU’s Centre for Neural Computation. In 2005, Moser and her team discovered what are now known as grid cells in the entorhinal cortex, a structure within the medial temporal lobe connecting the neocortex to the hippocampus. Basically, they demonstrated that when a rat learns to navigate a maze, an isomorphic pattern of neural circuitry is established in this structure. For this pathbreaking work, Moser shared in the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (along with her husband and John O’Keefe).
- Web resource: May-Britt Moser’s Home Page
35. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard | Biochemistry, Genetics, Developmental Biology
Nüsslein-Volhard (née Volhard) was born near Magdeburg, Germany. She studied general science at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt, before moving to Eberhard-Karls-Universität in Tübingen, where she received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 1968. For her graduate work, she remained in Tübingen; however, she now began attending the lectures of Gerhard Schramm, Heinz Schaller, and other eminent scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research (later rechristened the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology). She obtained her PhD in genetics there in 1973 under the supervision of Schaller. For her dissertation, she studied the binding of RNA polymerase to the DNA molecule in Escherichia coli. Techniques she developed at this time for purifying RNA polymerase opened up new avenues for genetics research extending in many different directions.
After graduating, Nüsslein-Volhard received a post-doc to work with world-renowned developmental biologist Walter Gehring at the University of Basel in Switzerland. It was in Gehring’s laboratory that she undertook the painstaking work of genetic screening of mutations involving the bicaudal gene in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) on which her reputation is based. Her landmark 1977 paper, “Genetic analysis of pattern-formation in the embryo of Drosophila melanogaster”. turned the field of developmental biology on its ear. Scientists were now able to intervene in the development of the vertebrate embryo in a controlled way, allowing them for the first time to study the mechanistic details of embryonic development. In 1978, Nüsslein-Volhard accepted a position at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, where she continued her groundbreaking work on Drosophila embryos, making many additional advances. In 1981, she moved to the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory, back in Tübingen, before being appointed in 1986 Director of the newly renamed Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, where she remains until today as an emerita researcher. In 1995, Nüsslein-Volhard shared in the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (with Edward B. Lewis and Eric Wieschaus) for her work on “the genetic control of early embryonic development.”
- Nüsslein-Volhard is also featured in our article “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today.”
- Web resource: Christiane Nusslein-Volhard’s Biographical Page
36. Radia Perlman | Computer Science
Perlman was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and grew up near Asbury Park, New Jersey. She entered MIT to study mathematics for her bachelor’s degree, but ended up debugging programs for the LOGO group within the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (as it was then known) to earn some money. LOGO was an early educational robotics language. It was while working for this group under the supervision of Seymour Papert that Perlman was inspired to design a child-friendly version of LOGO called TORTIS (Toddler’s Own Recursive Turtle Interpreter System), which was an interactive robot with a special keyboard that preschoolers could use to learn the basics of programming. Historians have acclaimed TORTIS as a pioneering example of tangible computing, as the field has come to be known. Perlman has stated that she failed to follow up on TORTIS for fear that the involvement of small children might prevent her from being taken seriously as a scientist. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from MIT, she obtained her PhD in computer science in 1988 from the same institution.
After graduating, she went to work for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), where she made most of the conceptual innovations for which she is famous. These include protocols she designed in the 1980s (IS-IS), which continue to be used for routing Internet Protocol (IP) to this day. She is perhaps best known for inventing the Spanning Tree Algorithm, which transformed Ethernet from its originally limited scalability into a protocol capable of handling large clouds. She later improved on this work by designing TRILL (TRansparent Interconnection of Lots of Links), which allows Ethernet to make optimal use of bandwidth. On account of these and other fundamental contributions to digital network infrastructure, she is often referred to as the “Mother of the Internet” — a sobriquet she modestly rejects. Perlman has written two influential college textbooks — her 1992 classic, Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols, brought simplifying clarity to a confused field — and holds over one hundred patents. She is currently employed by Dell EMC.
- Web resource: Radia Perman’s Biographical Page
37. Carolyn C. Porco | Astrophysics, Planetary Science
Porco was born in the Bronx, in New York City. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1974 from State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. She received her PhD in 1983 in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences from California Institute of Technology (CalTech), in Pasadena, California, where she wrote her dissertation on the discoveries made by NASA’s unmanned spacecraft, Voyagers 1 and 2, while exploring the rings of Saturn. Immediately upon graduation, Porco joined the University of Arizona’s Department of Planetary Sciences, and was appointed a member of the Voyager Imaging Team. In 1986, she was an active member of the team managing Voyager 2’s encounter with Uranus, and in 1989, she headed up the Rings Working Group within the Imaging Team participating in Voyager 2’s encounter with Neptune. Among the many Voyager-based discoveries attributable to Porco and her team are eccentric “spokes” among the rings of Saturn, the Uranian moons Cordelia and Ophelia, which “shepherd” Uranus’s rings, and the Neptunian moon Galatea, which performs a similar function for Neptune’s ring arcs.
In 1990, Porco was named leader of the Imaging Team for the Cassini space probe, which was inserted into orbit around Saturn and deployed the Huygens probe into the upper atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. During this mission, Porco’s team discovered several new moons in orbit around Saturn, as well as new features of its ring system, a hydrocarbon lake on Titan, and water geysers on the moon Enceladus. In 1993, Porco coauthored a paper predicting that acoustic oscillations within Saturn are responsible for creating particular features in its ring system. This prediction was confirmed in 2013 by data collected by the Cassini spacecraft, proving that planetary rings can be used as a sort of seismograph to record oscillatory motions within a host planet. Most recently, Porco served as a member of the Imaging Team for the recent Pluto flyby mission. The author of more than 110 scientific papers, and one of the world’s experts on planetary ring formations, Porco is currently Senior Research Scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
- Web resource: Carolyn Porco’s Home Page
38. Lisa Randall | Particle Physics, Cosmology
Randall was born in Queens, in New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1983, and her PhD in theoretical particle physics in 1987 from the same university, where Howard Georgi served as her dissertation adviser. After graduating, Randall held a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California–Berkeley and at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory until 1990, after which she returned to Harvard for a year as a member of the exclusive Junior Fellows program there. In 1991, she accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT, where she was promoted to Associate Professor in 1995. In 1998, Randall moved to the Princeton Department of Physics as a full Professor. After another brief stint at MIT, in 2001 she joined the Harvard Physics Department, which has been her home base ever since. She is currently the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science in the Physics Department at Harvard, where she is also a member of the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature/High Energy Theory Group.
Randall works on elementary particles and fundamental forces, and has studied a wide variety of theories and models, the most recent of which involve extra dimensions of space. Moreover, she has made major contributions to such areas of theoretical physics as the standard model, the Higgs boson, supersymmetry, grand unified theories (GUTs), general relativity, cosmological inflation, baryogenesis, and dark matter. With more than 160 scientific papers to her credit, Randall is also the author of four books aimed at a popular audience, including most recently Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Ecco, 2015). In addition, she wrote the libretto for an opera, Hypermusic Prologue by Hèctor Parra, based on an earlier book of hers, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (Ecco, 2005). Elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, for a time in the early 2000s Randall was one of the world’s most-cited active theoretical physicists.
- Web resource: Lisa Randall’s Home Page
39. Maureen E. Raymo | Geology, Paleoclimatology
Raymo was born in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree in geology in 1982 from Brown University. She went on to earn two master’s degrees, in 1985 and 1988, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, as well as a PhD in 1989 from the same institution. After graduating, she spent a year at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Between 1991 and 2011, Raymo taught at University of California–Berkeley (briefly), at MIT, and at Boston University. For a number of years during this period, she was also an Adjunct Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In 2011, she returned to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where she is currently Lamont Research Professor and Director of the Lamont-Doherty Core Repository.
Over the course of her career, Raymo has participated in or led field expeditions to Tibet, Patagonia, South Africa, southern India, and Western Australia, among other places. Her particular area of interest lies in understanding the causal factors responsible for the earth’s climate variation over geological time. This involves many different factors, including variations in the earth’s orbit (and thus distance from the sun), variations in solar activity, plate tectonics, and the evolution of life (and thus its contribution to the physics and the chemical composition of the land surface, the oceans, and the atmosphere). One of Raymo’s signal contributions to the field is her Uplift-Weathering Hypothesis (developed with William Ruddiman and Philip Froehlich). This hypothesis states that during mountain formation (tectonic uplift), such as on the Tibetan plateau, many minerals that become exposed at the surface interact with atmospheric CO2 in a process of “chemical weathering,” leading to a net loss of carbon to the atmosphere and a lowering of the earth’s mean surface temperature. The hypothesis has proved to be quite complicated in its details, and thus difficult to test. It is still being hotly debated. In 2014, Raymo received two of the most prestigious awards in her field: the Milutin Milankovic Medal of the European Geosciences Union and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. In 2016, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Web resource: Maureen E. Raymo’s Home Page
40. Sara Seager | Astrophysics, Planetary Science
Seager was born in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics in 1994 from the University of Toronto. For he graduate work, she moved to Harvard University, where she received her PhD in astronomy in 1999. For her dissertation, “Extrasolar Planets under Strong Stellar Irradiation,” she worked on developing theoretical models of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, under the direction of Dimitar Sasselov. After graduating, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for three years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She also held a position as a Senior Research Staff member at the Carnegie Institution of Washington through 2006. In 2007, Seager joined MIT as a Associate Professor; she became a full Professor there in 2010. She is currently the Class of 1941 Professor of Physics and Planetary Science at MIT.
Seager has been at the forefront of efforts to discover and study exoplanets, particularly by analyzing their atmospheres through spectroscopic analysis. The difficulty this presents lies in the extreme faintness of the light reflected by extrasolar planets in relation to the light from the nearby stars they orbit. Seager has worked on several NASA missions — past, ongoing, and in the planning stages. A future mission she is currently involved in developing will deploy a novel mechanical device to occlude starlight in order to make the closer study of exoplanets feasible. (See the video clip below for details.) Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2013, Seager is also known for the Seager Equation, a revised version of the famous Drake Equation, which provided a formula for estimating the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe. She has co-edited (with L. Drake Deming) the volume of conference proceedings, Scientific Frontiers in Research on Extrasolar Planets (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2003), and authored two popular college textbooks: Exoplanets (University of Arizona Press, 2010) and Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes (Princeton UP, 2010).
- Web resource: Sara Seager’s Home Page
41. Gwynne Shotwell | Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Shotwell was born in Libertyville, Illinois. She received her bachelor of science degree from Northwestern University, and her master’s degree in in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from the same university. She is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX, a private corporation which provides spacecraft- and rocket-manufacturing and -launching services to both government and private-sector customers. SpaceX, founded in 2002 by the company’s current CEO, Elon Musk, was the first private company to send a liquid-fuel rocket into earth orbit (2008) and to reach the International Space Station (2012), as well as the first group, period, to effect a propelled vertical landing of a rocket booster (2015) and to develop an integrated, vertical take-off and landing, reusable rocket system (2017).
Shotwell has been with SpaceX from the company’s inception in 2002, when she was brought on board as Vice President of Business Development. Before joining SpaceX, she had worked briefly for the Chrysler Corporation, and, from 1988 until 1998, for the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded, non-profit, research and development center. During this time, she wrote dozens of technical papers developing new concepts and analyzing operational risks in many different fields of space flight, from small spacecraft design to space shuttle integration, and from infrared signature target modeling to thermal analysis in relation to reentry vehicles. Between 1998 and 2002, she served as Director of the space systems division of Microcosm, Inc. During her early years at SpaceX, Shotwell oversaw the development of the highly successful Falcon family of launch vehicles, culminating in a commercial resupply services contract with the International Space Station. The first resupply mission was launched atop a fully reusable Falcon-9 rocket in 2012. She is currently overseeing ambitious plans to send a manned spacecraft into earth orbit next year (2018), with the eventual goal of a manned mission to Mars by 2024.
- Web resource: Gwynne Shotwell’s Home Page
42. Eva Silverstein | Theoretical Physics, Cosmology
Silverstein earned her bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 from Harvard University, and her PhD in physics in 1996 from Princeton University, where she studied with Ed Witten. After a post-doc at Rutgers University, in 1997 she was appointed an Assistant Professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) — now known as the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory — which is a federally owned particle accelerator laboratory operated by Stanford University. During this early stage of her career, Silverstein was also appointed a MacArthur Fellow and a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, both in 1999. In 2001, she was promoted to Associate Professor status at SLAC, where she became a full Professor in 2006. During a sabbatical year (2009 — 2010), she was a Visiting Professor at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and in the Department of Physics in University of California–Santa Barbara.
Silverstein’s work focuses on the nature of the fundamental laws of physics, as well as the origin and early evolution of the universe. She has made important theoretical contributions to a number of different areas of current research, including the cosmic microwave background radiation, cosmic inflation, dark energy, supersymmetry breaking, the dynamics of interacting scalar fields, the unification of string vacua, and the origin of the hierarchical structure of the universe from the Planck scale to the cosmological horizon. Silverstein is perhaps best known for her work (with Allan Adams and Joseph Polchinski) on closed string tachyon condensation, resulting in the resolution of certain spacetime singularities. She is currently Professor of Physics at SLAC. Sycara has also been very active professionally, serving
- Web resource: Eva Silverstein’s Home Page
43. Susan Solomon | Atmospheric Chemistry
Solomon was born in Chicago, Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1977 from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her PhD in chemistry in 1981 from University of California–Berkeley. Upon graduating, Solomon went to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, where she spent the bulk of her career. There, she worked in the Aeronomy Laboratory, the Earth System Research Laboratory, and at the time of her retirement in 2011, was head of the Chemistry and Climate Processes Group. That year, she joined MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. It was while working for NOAA during the 1980s that Solomon did the work upon which her reputation primarily rests. In the 1970s, it had been observed that the ozone layer on the stratosphere — which screens deadly cosmic radiation and upon which all life on earth depends — was becoming depleted. The problem was especially acute over Antarctica, giving rise to the phrase “ozone hole.”
Solomon and her team at NOAA began to study the problem and came up with what proved to be the correct causal mechanism: the interaction of atmospheric ozone with man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were present at that time in a wide variety of refrigerants and aerosol propellants. To test the theory, Solomon led expeditions to Antarctica in 1986 and 1987, personally carrying out observations showing that the abundance of chlorine compounds there is about one hundred times greater than expected, thus confirming the CFC theory of the etiology of the Antarctic ozone hole. As a result of Solomon’s work (as well as that of James Lovelock and others), several international treaties were signed in the late 1980s phasing out the production and commercial use of CFCs. By the early twenty-first century, it had become clear that the strategy was working — stratospheric ozone depletion was being reversed. Solomon, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1999, is currently the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT.
- Web resource: Susan Solomon’s Home Page
44. Ana M. Soto | Immunology, Integrative Physiology, Pathobiology
Soto received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the Colegio Padre Elizalde in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and her MD from the University of Buenos Aires. After obtaining her MD, Soto took a research position with the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), Unit 34, in Lyon. It was there, in 1976, that Soto — together with her lifelong scientific collaborator and partner, Carlos Sonnenschein — first became convinced that the received view of the endocrine regulation of cell proliferation was seriously flawed. In a nutshell, Soto and Sonnenschein argued that cell proliferation occurs, not as a result of direct endocrine (especially, sex hormone) “stimulation,” but rather by means of a default homeodynamic process that is foundational to all cellular life. According to their theory, the endocrine system exercises only negative feedback control by blocking the action of blood plasma — borne inhibitors. The implications of their ideas, which have received experimental confirmation but remain controversial, are wide-ranging.
For one thing, the theory has led to much greater attention being paid to environmental contaminants that may act as endocrine disruptors. Between 1989 and 1993, Soto and Sonnenschein themselves showed that an estrogen-like synthetic compound, bisphenol A (BPA), found in many plastics, disrupts normal cell development. A few years after that, the team turned their work on the endocrine regulation of cell proliferation into a full-fledged theory of carcinogenesis. This theory, known as the tissue organization field theory (TOFT), postulates that cancer is not mainly due to genetic mutations (so-called “oncogenes”) in individual cells, but rather is a disease whose etiology lies primarily at the tissue level of biological organization. Soto and Sonnenschein have published a number of scientific papers in support of their theory, as well as the jointly authored book, The Society of Cells: Cancer and Control of Cell Prolliferation (Taylor & Francis, 1999). From 2013 until 2015, Soto held the Blaise Pascal Chair in Biology at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. She is currently Professor of Immunology in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as Principal Investigator in the Soto/Sonnenschein Laboratory at Tufts.
- Web resource: Ana Soto’s Home Page
45. Katia P. Sycara | Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics
Sycara was born in Greece. She received her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Brown University, her master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her PhD in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. After graduating, she returned home for a while, serving as Head of the Computing Section of the Center of Planning and Economic Research, a government research center in Athens. Afterwards, she returned to the US, where she worked on developing various projects in artificial intelligence through a series of contracts from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other government agencies. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has long been her main institutional base.
Sycara has authored or co-authored more than 300 technical papers in such varied fields as multi-agent systems, human-agent interaction, the Semantic Web, autonomous agents, machine learning, negotiation, and computational economics. Her group at Carnegie Mellon developed the RETSINA multi-agent infrastructure, a toolkit that permits the development of diverse software agents capable of dynamic coordination in open information environments such as the Internet. Sycara has also been very active professionally, serving in an advisory capacity on a large number of public and private boards, such as France Telecom, the Greek National Research Center Demokritos, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Executive Council, and the OASIS Technical Committee on the development of Universal Description and Discovery for Interoperability (UDDI) software. Sycara is currently Director of the Advanced Agent-Robotics Technology Lab in the Robotics Institute of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. She also holds a part-time position as the Sixth Century Chair in Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
- Web resource: Katia Sycara’s Home Page
46. Maryna S. Viazovska | Mathematics
Viazovska was born in Kiev, Ukraine (then still a part of the USSR). She received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev, and her master’s (candidate) degree in 2010 from the Institute of Mathematics of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences. She completed her PhD on analytic number theory in 2013 at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (University of Bonn), where she worked under the supervision of Don Zagier and Werner Müller. After graduating, Viazovska was a postdoctoral researcher at the Berlin Mathematical School in Berlin (which is run by a consortium of the Mathematics Departments of three Berlin-based universities). Afterwards, she also studied directly at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on a separate post-doc.
Viazovska’s two main subjects of research are modular forms (a field of complex analysis with links to number theory and algebraic topology) and sphere-packing. She is undoubtedly best known for her ground-breaking work in the latter field, which involves the best (or densest) way to pack equal-sized spheres in manifolds of various numbers of dimensions. In early 2016, Viazovska solved the centuries-old densest-packing problem for eight dimensions. Up until her breakthrough, the problem had been solved for three dimensions only, and then only using a brute-force-calculation approach. Viazovska’s revolutionary approach, which drew on previously unsuspected deep connections between number theory and topology, rendered all previous work in the field obsolete overnight. Within weeks — and working with several co-authors, applying the same techniques she had developed earlier — she proved the densest-packing solution for twenty-four dimensions. That fall, Viazovska was invited to lead a colloquium and deliver a public lecture on her work in the Mathematics Department at Princeton University as a Minerva Distinguished Visitor. In 2017, she received the prestigious Clay Research Award, as well as the SASTRA Ramanujan Prize (in honor of the remarkable Indian number theorist) in recognition of her achievements. In the fall of 2017, Viazovska became an Assistant Professor (tenure-track) at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she is Head of the Chair of Number Theory within the Institute of Mathematics in the School of Basic Sciences.
- Viazovska also made our list of “50 People Who Deserve a Nobel Prize — 2017 Update.”
- Web resource: Maryna S. Viazovska’s Home Page
47. Mary Jane West-Eberhard | Comparative Animal Behavior, Developmental Biology, Evolutionary Biology
West-Eberhard (née West) was born in Pontiac, Michigan. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1963, her master’s in 1964, and her PhD in 1967, all from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She did her dissertation work on social wasps under the supervision of Richard D. Alexander. After graduating, West-Eberhard spent two years at Harvard University on a post-doc, as well as summers doing field research at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory on Long Island and at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. Between 1969 and 1979, she worked as a Research Associate in the Biology Department at the Universidad del Valle. In 1975, West-Eberhard began to go on regular field trips to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) branch located in San José, Costa Rica, where she obtained a part-time appointment as a Senior Scientist in 1979 (which became full-time in 1986). She has lived and worked in Costa Rica from 1979 until today. Beginning in the 1980s, West-Eberhard began to explore an alternative explanatory framework for the social behaviors she had observed in the various wasps she had studied (alternative, that is, to the standard neo-Darwinian framework of blind variation and selective retention). In the end, she produced an integrated theory of evolution based on developmental pathways and what came to be called the developmental (or phenotypic) plasticity of organisms.
The basic idea is that there is no direct mechanical connection between genetic variation and phenotypic selection due to the fact that all organisms possess an inherent capacity — particularly, in metazoans, during embryological development — for individual adaptation to (compensation for) random genetic changes and other insults to their structural, physiological, and behavioral integrity. In short, through the lens of developmental plasticity, the individual organism can be seen to play a crucially important, if hitherto unsuspected, role in the evolutionary process (which on the standard neo-Darwinian view is a strictly population-level phenomenon). West-Eberhard eventually published her new evolutionary framework in the weighty textbook, Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (Oxford University Press, 2003), which is considered by many to be a seminal document in the revolutionary rethinking of evolutionary theory that is underway at present and which sometimes goes by the name of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis or the Third Way of Evolution. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, West-Eberhard received the 2003 Sewall Wright Award, given annually by the American Society of Naturalists for fundamental contributions to the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.
- Web resource: Mary Jane West-Eberhard’s Resource Page
48. Sheila E. Widnall | Aeronautical Engineering
Widnall (née Evans) was born in Tacoma, Washington. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1960, her master’s degree in 1961, and her Doctor of Science (ScD) degree in 1964, all from MIT and all in the field of aeronautics. Widnall joined the MIT faculty in 1964 as an Assistant Professor. She was promoted to Associate professor in 1970 and became a full Professor in 1974. In 1979, she became the first woman to serve as a Department chair at MIT. In 1986, she was named the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics in that university. Widnall served as Associate Provost of MIT during the 1992 — 1993 academic year, then left academia to serve her country as Secretary of the Air Force under the Clinton Administration, from 1993 until 1997. She is the only woman ever to head one of the military services.
Returning to academic life in 1998, Widnall rejoined the MIT faculty with the rank of Institute Professor. Her research activities lie mainly in the fields of fluid dynamics and turbulence. She has done significant work on all of the following topics: boundary-layer stability; turbulence and transition; the theory of unsteady lifting surfaces; unsteady hydrodynamic loads on finite-span, fully wetted and supercavitating hydrofoils; unsteady forces on oscillating cylinders in subsonic and supersonic air flow; vortex stability; tip-vortex aerodynamics; unsteady leading-edge vortex separation from slender delta wings; aircraft-wake studies; helicopter noise; and the aerodynamics of high-speed ground transportation vehicles. Widnall has more than 70 peer-reviewed publications to her credit, and holds three patents. She also served on the board appointed in 2003 to investigate the break-up of the Space Shuttle Columbia upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. A former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Widnall is currently Institute Professor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.
- Web resource: Shelia Widnall’s Home Page
49. Melanie M. Wood | Mathematics
Wood was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1998 (at the age of sixteen), she became the first woman to make the United States International Mathematical Olympiad Team, taking a silver medal at the 39th Math Olympiad in Taipei, Taiwan, that year, and again at the 40th Olympiad in Bucharest, Romania, the following year. Wood earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2003 from Duke University. Also in 2003, while still at Duke, Wood won the Morgan Prize for Outstanding Research in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Student for her work on Belyi-extending maps and P-orderings. The Prize committee described her work as deep and original. After a year of study at Cambridge University (2003 — 2004) on a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship, she entered Princeton University, where she took her PhD in 2009. She wrote her dissertation, titled “Moduli Spaces for Rings and Ideals,” on algebraic geometry; her supervisor was Manjul Bhargava. After graduating, Wood took a position as Szegö Assistant Professor at Stanford University from 2009 until 2011. Then, in 2011, she moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she held the rank of Assistant Professor until 2017, when she was promoted to full Professor, which is her current title.
Wood’s research interests lie at the interface between number theory and algebraic geometry, and also include such related fields as probability, additive combinatorics, random groups, and algebraic topology. She is especially interested in the question of the distribution of the number of points on curves over a fixed finite field, both in special cases, where proofs are possible, and in the general case, where we are currently limited to conjectures and developing heuristics. Wood is the winner of numerous awards, prizes, and fellowships, including he Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize (2002), a Clay Mathematics Institute Liftoff Fellowship (2009), an American Institute of Mathematics Five-Year Fellowship (2009), a Sloan Research Fellowship (2015), and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award (2017). A Fellow of the American Mathematical Society since 2012, Wood has published some thirty-five peer-reviewed papers.
- Web resource: Melanie Wood’s Home Page
50. Ada E. Yonath | Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Crystallography
Yonath (née Lifshitz) was born in Jerusalem, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and is today Israel. Her parents had emigrated from Poland to Mandatory Palestine in 1933. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962 and her master’s degree in biochemistry in 1964, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She obtained her PhD in 1968 from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where she worked on the structure of collagen by using X-ray crystallography techniques. After graduating, she traveled on a post-doc to the US, where she continued her crystallographic studies of fibrous proteins (at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh) and globular proteins (at MIT). In 1970, she returned to the Weizmann Institute, where she established the first biological crystallography laboratory in Israel. It was at this time that Yonath conceived an ambitious plan to crystallize the ribosome (the organelle responsible for protein synthesis) to make possible the detailed, 3-D, X-ray diffraction study of its structure.
At first, Yonath’s idea met with considerable skepticism, as the crystallization of such a large macromolecular assembly was considered to be technically impossible. In 1977, she spent a year at the University of Chicago, and between 1979 and 1984, she worked with Heinz-Günter Wittmann at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. Finally, by the mid-1980s, she had produced the first usable ribosome crystals. This success led, in turn, to an international race to crack the 3-D structure of the ribosome, bringing increased recognition and resources to Yonath and her lab. At the end of the 1990s, she succeeded in producing the first electron density map of the small subunit of a bacterial ribosome. In subsequent work, Yonath has determined the mode of action of more than twenty different antibiotics targeting the ribosome, throwing light upon the mechanism of drug resistance. For her decades-long work on elucidating the structure of the ribosome, Yonath shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz). She is currently Director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
- Web resource: Ada E. Yonath’s Home Page